Northern Ireland news

Robin Swann: Unionist remainers did not vote to leave UK

Ulster Unionist Leader Robin Swann and Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson (right) meeting the European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (left) in Strasbourg. Picture from Ulster Unionist Party, Press Association
David Young, Press Association

UNIONISTS who voted to remain in the EU were not voting to leave the UK, Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann has told the bloc's chief Brexit negotiator.

Mr Swann and Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson met Michel Barnier in Strasbourg yesterday morning.

The UUP backed the remain campaign ahead of the 2016 referendum, in which Northern Ireland voted 56% to 44% to stay within the EU.

The party's position since the vote is that the overall result should be respected and Brexit implemented.

It has reacted angrily to EU proposals that would see Northern Ireland effectively remain in the customs union in order to maintain a free-flowing border on the island of Ireland.

Mr Swann said the discussions with Mr Barnier were "constructive and business-like".

He said unionists who opted for remain "definitely did not vote to leave the UK".

"It was a democratic vote which all unionists respect. Unionists are unionists for a reason," he said.

"They want to remain part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We wanted Mr Barnier to be absolutely clear about that.

"The tone of the language being used by some, more specifically the Irish government, is less than helpful.

"The Irish government in particular seem intent on using Brexit as a Trojan Horse to pursue Irish unity by other means."

Mr Swann accused the Irish government of undermining the key principle of the Good Friday Agreement - that it is for the people of Northern Ireland to decide their constitutional future.

He added: "We also told Mr Barnier that Northern Ireland welcomed the help and assistance of the EU over the years through its peace programmes.

"It is widely recognised that the EU did great work in this area, but that good work is now being undermined because there is a growing perception that the EU is now siding with nationalists against unionists."

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